Robert Horry is the very personification of the X-Factor. The veteran power forward and six-time NBA Champion with Houston, Los Angeles, and San Antonio has never really been a superstar player but, as he has proven so many times in his career, there is probably no one else you want holding the ball with less than two minutes in a crucial game. In this year's NBA Live 07, due in stores later this year from EA Sports, the X-Factor of players such as Horry will play a role in how effective you are on the court. We got a chance to see a work-in-progress version of the PlayStation Portable version of NBA Live 07 recently to see how it's shaping up.
NBA Live 07 defines the X-Factor player as the type of guy who doesn't always get a ton of playing time yet is still able to bust the game wide open in the right situation. While Lebron and Kobe are the superstars in the game, think of the X-Factor players as guys like Gary Payton, Jerry Stackhouse, and the aforementioned Horry--players who are capable of taking over the game for stretches at a time. Bring an X-Factor player off the bench and you can use him at a crucial point to keep a lead, shut down a big scorer on the other team, or help your team come from behind to grab the win.
There's more to utilizing an X-Factor guy than simply pulling him off the pine and letting him do his thing, however. His play on the court will depend on you, the player. Robert Horry, for example, will need to find his shot before he turns into the 3-point machine that's made him famous. Once he gets hot--and the so-called X-Factor kicks in--well, that's exactly when Horry is most dangerous to your opponent. That's the key here--the X-Factor player only makes a difference once you've earned the boost; essentially you're turning the player into a freestyle superstar, but the burst of energy and skill will only last for so long. Therefore, you'll want to make your substitutions with care, bringing your X-Factor guys in only when they are most needed.
When you think about it, X-Factor players are merely an extension of the "superstar" player roles introduced in last year's NBA Live 06. Last year's game gave you specific controls based on the many roles NBA pros play on the court, and this year those superstar roles have expanded not just in number but in flexibility. Last year's game assigned one role to each superstar, but in NBA Live 07, a superstar can play multiple roles and have multiple superstar abilities based on his talent level. It makes sense, of course; Lebron James, for instance, is more than a high-flying scorer--he's been known to spread the ball around and make some things happen on the court as well. When you play as King James in the game, you'll be able to play through any of his superstar abilities by switching his "role" on the fly. To do this, you simply double-tap the left trigger button and you'll see the icon under Lebron change to reflect his new role on the team. Of course, not every superstar can play multiple roles on a team; some guys are simply pure scorers or great defenders, after all. But giving superstars multiple roles should definitely open up your options on the floor.
If you've got the cash to afford two versions of NBA Live 07, the PSP and PlayStation 2 games might be a good option, if only because the NBA Live 07 development team is making sure the two versions will be fully compatible with each other. You'll be able to transfer created players from the PS2 to the PSP game, and you can even continue your dynasty season on your handheld, link back up to your PS2 console when you return home, and ensure that the data is always in synch between the two games. Another cool feature for PSP fans: You'll be able to play MP3s off your memory stick, either in the front-end menu or when playing the minigames found in NBA Live 07.
Dynasty mode has been beefed up a bit across all versions of the game. The main addition is the idea of off-day activities. This will give you something to do on those days when your team is not playing a game; you can choose to schedule a team event, practice, or workout, or even give your players the day off if they're about to enter a long stretch of games. All of these decisions (and the choices you make on the court) will have an effect on your team's chemistry. Some players may be happy with your coaching style; others might want out and demand a trade. It's all part of the balancing act that comes with running an NBA team.
Game modes in NBA Live 07 will include the aforementioned dynasty mode, season and playoff formats, two new minigames (neither of which we got to play, unfortunately), the superstar challenge (where you'll be testing your skills on the court trying to achieve different goals, such as matching Kobe Bryant's 81-point performance), as well as the full All-Star Weekend activities featured in previous installments, including the rookie challenge, 3-point contest, dunk contest (modified for the PSP, of course), and the All-Star Game itself. The game will also support wireless play on the PSP in both ad hoc and infrastructure mode. The game is also taking advantage of the PSP Wi-Fi capabilities by streaming in live ESPN updates in the form of a sports ticker and regular ESPN Radio updates, a feature that's happening across practically the entire EA Sports lineup.
Graphically, the PSP version of NBA Live 07 holds up quite well with its console counterparts. The game has the same sleek new Apple-influenced menu design--clean lines, bold graphics, and lots of white. On the court, player models are nicely detailed for a handheld game, and you can make out the reflections of the players in the hardwood courts. Developers pointed out a number of smaller refinements to the game's graphical presentation--players' feet, for example, have been made a touch bigger this time around; player jersey resolutions are higher this year; the lighting of the crowd has improved; and, of course, there are new animations to watch as the players make their way up and down the court.
Based on what we've seen of NBA Live 07, the game looks to be making some solid additions to its freestyle superstar controls, by letting players play multiple roles on the floor and even off the bench. With a full-featured game for the PSP set to hit simultaneously with the console games, hardcore NBA fans won't have much of an excuse to be without their favorite sport, even when they hit the road. Look for more of the game in the coming weeks as we lead up to its release later this year.